Obituary: Bob Fletcher saved farms of interned Japanese Americans during WWII

05/31/2013 12:00 AM

05/31/2013 6:28 AM

Bob Fletcher, a Sacramento farmer, volunteer and man of courage and conviction who saved the farms of interned Japanese American families during World War II, died May 23. He was 101.

Mr. Fletcher demonstrated the finest human values in one of the darkest periods of American history. It was 1942, a few months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the U.S. government forced Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese descent to report to barbed-wire camps. Many lost their homes to thieves or bank foreclosures.

A state agricultural inspector, Mr. Fletcher acted instinctively to help Japanese American farmers. He quit his job and went to work saving farms belonging to the Nitta, Okamoto and Tsukamoto families in the Florin community.

In the face of deep anti-Japanese sentiment – including taunts of "Jap lover" and a bullet fired into the Tsukamoto barn – Mr. Fletcher worked 90 acres of flame Tokay grapes. He paid the mortgages and taxes and took half the profits. He turned over the rest – along with the farms – to the three families when they returned to Sacramento in 1945.

"I did know a few of them pretty well and never agreed with the evacuation," he told The Bee in 2010. "They were the same as anybody else. It was obvious they had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor."

Mr. Fletcher's heroism was widely celebrated in the community, including a centennial birthday party for him in 2011 that drew more than 150 people. His inspirational story is recounted in history books – including "We The People: A Story of Internment in America" by Elizabeth Pinkerton and Mary Tsukamoto, whose farm he saved.

"Few people in history exemplify the best ideals the way that Bob did," said Tsukamoto's daughter, Marielle, who was 5 when her family was interned. "He was honest and hardworking and had integrity. Whenever you asked him about it, he just said, 'It was the right thing to do.' "

Mr. Fletcher, who settled in Florin as a farmer after the war, also served people in other ways. He spent 20 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Florin Fire Department and retired in 1974 after another 12 years as paid chief. He helped start the Florin Water District in 1959 and was a board member for 50 years.

He was an active member of the Florin Historical Society and civic groups in Florin and Elk Grove. He donated 5 acres for a Florin history center that later was renamed the Fletcher Farm Community Center.

"Bob Fletcher epitomized service before self," said Rick Martinez, a former Florin and Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District chief. "He was a true public servant."

The only child of Contra Costa County walnut farmers, Robert Emmett Fletcher Jr. was born in 1911 and raised in Brentwood.

He earned an agriculture degree from UC Davis in 1933, managed a peach ranch and worked as a state and Sacramento County agriculture inspector during the Great Depression.

He belonged to professional fire service groups and the Sacramento County Farm Bureau. He had a son and was married for almost 68 years to his wife, Teresa.

Mr. Fletcher, who was in good health until a recent leg infection, never smoked or drank alcohol, said his brother-in-law Nevin Nyswonger. A reserved man of simple tastes, he drank more than a quart of milk a day and enjoyed spending time with his wife or working.

"He never stopped working hard – but not for himself," Martinez said. "He worked hard to get done whatever needed to be done for others."

Bob Fletcher

Born: July 26, 1911

Died: May 23, 2013

Survived by: Wife, Teresa of Sacramento; son, Robert III of Idaho; three granddaughters; five great-grandchildren

Services: 10 a.m. today at East Lawn Elk Grove Mortuary, 9189 East Stockton Blvd., Elk Grove

Remembrances: Donations may be made to the Florin Historical Society, 7145 McComber St., Florin, CA 95828; or any charity.

Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.

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